In March of 2012, USA Today published a great article about radon in schools. (1)  The author, Mr. Jeff Rossen, found some astonishing facts:

  • “Most schools in the U.S. don’t test for radon. With more than 70,000 classrooms at risk across the country, just five states — Rhode Island, Connecticut, Virginia, Florida and Colorado — require radon testing.”

  • NBC News reached out to 40 different school districts across the country to offer free radon testing; all 40 either declined or didn’t respond. Rossen says that one Indianapolis district said, “This can only make us look bad. If the levels are high, parents will get upset and want every school tested.”

  •  Radioactive radon gas — which is invisible, odorless and tasteless — exists in classrooms across the country at levels nearly twice the Environmental Protection Agency’s acceptable limit.

“If a student’s exposed, even at the EPA’s action level of 4 picocuries per liter, that’s equivalent to smoking half a pack of cigarettes per day,” radon expert Bill Field told Rossen. (Note: a picocurie is a trillionth of a curie, which is a unit of radioactivity.)

Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States after smoking, and poses a serious public  health problem. The National Academy of Science estimated that radon causes about 20,000 lung cancer deaths each year. The report found that even very small exposures to radon can result in lung cancer, and concluded that no evidence exists that shows a threshold of exposure below which radon levels are harmless. The report also concludes that many smokers who  would otherwise not have developed lung cancer, will develop it if exposed to radon due to a synergistic relationship between radon and cigarette smoking.(2)

Students are not the only folks at risk.   Since radon tends to be more present when the building is built into a hillside, any employee who has an office in the area next to the earth is at higher risk than those employees who have offices on the second or third floor.  It is not uncommon for employees in security,or  building and grounds to be assigned to these windowless offices – and have significantly higher risk.  This is contributed to because in addition to higher risk of exposure because of office location, these  employees spend far more time in their offices than the teachers and others with working locations upstairs.

A national map overview of radon can be seen here. Most states have zip code-based maps showing the levels of radon in any particular area.   Simply enter “map zip code radon levels (State name)” into your search engine, and click return.  Your map should appear.

Radon is an odorless, colorless gas that is undetectable to the eyes or the nose. It  can enter your home or school through the building’s water supply, through cracks in it’s foundation, and through doors and windows. It can also build up inside the spaces in walls and then seep out into the main living area. (3) The only way to know if you have radon in your school is through proper testing. There are a wide range of test kits available, costing from around $20.00 to almost $1000.00.  You can research the one you want by googling “Radon Detection tools”.  Be aware that the lower cost tools often have a second fee for processing the sample, and/or postage.  If you are going to investigate more than half a dozen homes or schools, you may be better off buying the units starting around $175.00.

You can also reach out to us via the “contact us” tab, and we may be able to loan you  a piece of equipment.

You can check out your school’s neighborhood’s radon levels by using the zip code driven map here.   Click on your state, and a new map will appear that allows you to narrow your search by zip code or county.

If your school is located in a red area, checking it for radon would be prudent.

Any concerned citizen can become a Pollution Detective.

(3) “EPA Assessment of Risks from Radon in Homes PDF”(PDF, 99 pp, 1.3MB,About PDF) [EPA 402-R-03-003], June 2003